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User Story Heuristics: Understanding Agile Requirements

Summary:

Agile emphasizes just-in-time requirements rather than upfront preparation. The requirements person—be it the product owner, business analyst, product manager, or someone else—embodies the understanding of what is needed, and the user story represents the work that needs doing. This article details what user stories are (and what they are not).

User stories are probably the most widely used requirements technique in the agile world. This humble little who-what-why template was originally devised in 2001 by a team at Connextra in London, and it quickly gained widespread adoption:

As a someone
I want to do something
So that some result or benefit

Simple, really.

Many traditional requirements engineering and elicitation techniques are still valid in agile; it’s just the results don’t end up in a big document. Agile emphasizes just-in-time requirements rather than upfront preparation. The requirements person—be it the product owner, business analyst, product manager, or someone else—embodies the understanding of what is needed, and the user story represents the work that needs doing.

User stories have three attributes that fit well within agile:

  • Lightweight: They don’t impose a lot of (upfront) costs on the team
  • Easy to understand: You don’t need a five-day course to understand them
  • Easy to share: Objectives are simple to communicate between the technical team and customers

It is the third of these attributes that...

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